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Work in progress

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

BROSSARD – There’s a steep learning curve that comes with mastering the intricacies of playoff hockey. Alex Galchenyuk is taking that process one game at a time.

Coming off a tough outing in Game 1 against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Galchenyuk was one of 13 players to hit the ice on Saturday afternoon at the Bell Sports Complex. After taking three minor penalties and finding himself demoted to fourth-line duty in the series-opener, the 21-year-old was eager to get back to work and focus forward ahead of Game 2 on Sunday evening at the Bell Centre.

“I know I need to go out there and try to help the team win as much as I can, but bounces don’t go your way sometimes. It’s a team sport. We’re all battling. These are really close games. We’ve all got to bring our game to the next level. That’s what I’m trying to do,” offered Galchenyuk, who has been held off the scoresheet entirely since scoring the overtime-winner in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series against the Ottawa Senators. “When you don’t get the bounces for a couple of games, you know they’ll eventually come when you keep working. That’s where my head is right now.”

And, that’s exactly where it should be. Like the rest of his teammates, Galchenyuk is chomping at the bit to light the lamp on a more consistent basis right about now, but he understands that it takes a little bit extra to score in the postseason, especially against the likes of Lightning starter Ben Bishop.

“You can’t just sit and wait for those bounces. You’ve got to go out there and work hard, whether it’s a practice or a game, execute the game plan and play the system right. You need to do your best out there, which means moving your legs and being aggressive in front of the net,” explained Galchenyuk, who has played in 17 playoff games over the past three seasons, tallying four goals and eight points along the way. “We know they’ve got a great goalie down there, too. You’ve got to put a lot of pressure on him and not make it easy for him.”

Head coach Michel Therrien believes Galchenyuk can do just that. Despite assigning the former third-overall selection to ply his trade alongside Torrey Mitchell and Devante Smith-Pelly at one point on Friday night, the Canadiens’ bench boss is anything but disappointed in the way Galchenyuk has played early on this postseason. While No. 27 hasn’t necessarily been a force offensively, Therrien insists suiting up in high-stakes contests will do wonders for the sniper in the long run.

“Alex is a really young player, and there’s a process involved when you work with guys his age. The fact that he’s capable of playing playoff hockey, in overtime, is something you learn from. Those are big games. He knows what he has to do. It’s part of the process with all young kids. I’m sure he wants to do his best for his teammates,” stressed Therrien, who has worked with countless young guns over the years with the CH, watching first-hand as they’ve taken their respective games to new heights. “We look at our young veterans, where they’ve gotten to as compared to where they were three years ago. There’s a big, big difference. We’re talking about guys like P.K. Subban, Max Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher. You can name a whole bunch of guys who’ve progressed. In Alex’s case, he’s very, very young. You can’t forget that.”

And, like every young player, Galchenyuk is going to go through periods of inconsistency and struggle somewhat with and without the puck. It’s all part of a maturation process that Therrien wholeheartedly embraces, especially when it comes to a player who possesses the kind of raw talent that Galchenyuk does.

“Game 1 was a tough game for him, whether it was in terms of possessing the puck or his penalties, but we want him to continue developing. You have to make mistakes in order to get better. We don’t want them to happen, but that’s the reality with young players. We’ve got that philosophy,” explained Therrien, who confirmed in his post-practice press conference that Galchenyuk wouldn’t be a healthy scratch anytime soon. “We want him to get better. We’re working with him. We’re meeting with him. He’s a guy with a lot of potential.”

In the midst of his eighth playoff run in Montreal, Tomas Plekanec is one of many players inside the Canadiens’ locker room who likely understands what Galchenyuk is going through early on in Round 2. With 10 years of NHL experience, the Czech pivot is a perfect veteran for Galchenyuk to turn to for advice under these circumstances.

“I’ve told him not to watch TV, not to read the news and not to listen to what people are saying. Stay positive as much as you can. He’s doing that,” offered Plekanec, who has 76 games of postseason experience under his belt in La Belle Province. “We’re different people, though. I was hard on myself. He’s hard on himself too, but he doesn’t show it as much. It will click with Alex. He’ll be back on his game soon and he’ll help us win.”

That’s all Galchenyuk wants, especially with a must-win situation on the horizon in Game 2.

“Personally, I’ve just got to stay focused, go out there and try to play my game and do the best that I can do on the ice. I just need to be prepared to go out there, have fun, compete and create things,” concluded Galchenyuk. “I’m definitely trying to use my last two years of playoff experience. You know when things don’t go well, you can’t get rattled too fast. You need to stay patient and positive.”

Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.

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